On with the show

The best bars and venues for live music

Fans of the Loud As Folk series pack into Pignic Pub and Patio on a recent night.

Fans of the Loud As Folk series pack into Pignic Pub and Patio on a recent night.

Photo/Mark Earnest

At some point last year on my personal Facebook feed, a pal of mine asked about current venues for Reno shows. There were many comments lamenting the death of the good old days and venues gone by, like the 90s/00s Zephyr, Del Mar Station, Satellite, Arkaik, yada, yada, yada.

Here’s the deal, though: right now in Reno, there are a lot of excellent places to see music right in front of your face—much of it performed by locals and a host of great traveling bands. Really, the number of places hasn’t changed, and the quality has gone up in several respects.

So, let’s kick nostalgia to the curb and celebrate how the scene is thriving right under our noses, shall we? Here is a completely subjective list of the seven most interesting club venues in Reno right now.

Now, subjective is the rule here: I’m picking these based on my perception of the musical caliber, the staging and sight lines, and the sound quality from the PA. Although as a musician, I’ve played at some of these places, I’m strictly looking at this through a local music fan’s lens. But enough with the disclaimers. On to the list, in semi-alphabetical order:

Center Stage at Alturas Bar
1044 E. Fourth St.

I think this place deserves some more attention. Its past reputation as a pretty wild place for a very select crowd doesn’t jive with what’s going on now, once you walk down the big slope to this basement venue on Fourth Street. It’s got excellent sound, lots of the louder fare from locals and outta-towners, and an atmosphere that is spartan yet welcoming.

The Bluebird Nightclub
555 E. Fourth St.

Whether your definition of a venue includes truly “live” music or not in regards to the presence of guitars or drums, this spot that’s had a zillion names over the years is killing it when it comes to dance/electronic music. A place with one of the best PAs in town, The Bluebird really covers the beat spectrum with either the hottest or the most enduring electronic music, and they will occasionally branch out. If what you want is an “experience,” you’ll get it here.

Cargo Concert Hall at Whitney Peak Hotel
255 N. Virginia St.

I really should pick one of the larger rooms in town, and choosing Cargo is picking a consistent, quality experience all down the line. The sound is, for my money, the best in the city. The calendar is startlingly eclectic. The general atmosphere works great for a larger room, and strong sight lines are in literally every corner—stand anywhere and you’ll see the band you actually came for. More local acts would be nice to see, but when they do appear, they fit like a glove. It’s for more of a traditional “concert” experience beyond the dives.

The Holland Project
171 Vesta St.

This very simple, very boxy room harbors a secret: some of the most daring and compelling touring bands play it week in and week out. It’s one of the city’s only all-ages venues, and attracts mostly a younger crowd—but oldsters like me aren’t ostracized there. Most of the music is on the indie-rock side of things, but you’ll get surprises from old-school legends to folk acts to avant-garde madness. Plus no alcohol, no smoking, and, yes, tolerance for all.

The Bar Room at Jub Jub’s Thirst Parlor
71 S. Wells Ave.

There are two venues at Jub Jub’s—the smaller bar room and the much larger show room. The show room has its pros and cons, but for me, the best place to see bands on that block is in the 100-ish person smaller room. It has excellent sound quality, an eclectic mix from the loudest punk to the quietest acoustic rock, and the beyond funky decor and atmosphere make this an ideal venue for a city like Reno.

Pignic Pub & Patio
235 Flint St.

Reno has a past reputation for venues that feel more like cool house parties than clubs or dives (R.I.P. Strega). Pignic is one such place, as people pack into a pretty small, Edwardian-era living room to hear mostly acoustic music—or at the very least, low-power rock. The surprise here is Pignic’s dance nights, where it fosters a party atmosphere without the flashing lights of a standard club. There’s just a charm here that gives a truly distinctive experience to the music lover.

Shea’s Tavern
715 S. Virginia St.

Shea’s gets a lot of attention in our annual RN&R Best Of popularity poll, but it’s all warranted. The perpetual smoke cloud is either a boon or bane depending on who you are, and how Nevadan you want to be. Beyond that, though, you have well-curated shows with a surprisingly great sound system. It’s mostly on the punk rock and metal side of things, but not exclusively, and everything about this place screams “Reno” in the best way.